Tea with Your Ant

After taking my morning cup of Assam tea over to the computer to drink while I checked out the news items online, I picked up a BBC news item from the 12th of January on the careless use of pesticides around some of the Assam tea gardens just outside the beautiful Kaziranga National Park. Assam nestles between Bhutan and Burma in northeast India and produces a large amount of tea, which I for one find essential to my daily wellbeing. Kaziranga is home to an abundance of wildlife. However, two pregnant elephants had left the park to sample the greener grass over the hill and had then died from pesticide poisoning. It takes a lot of pesticide to kill an elephant and even more to kill two. Many cows had already succumbed, as had the vultures that started to tidy up.

Why was such death and destruction sown around the tea gardens? Apparently to kill the ants. The local red weaver ants (Oecophylla), also known as fire ants, of using their larva as glue-guns to stick the edges of leaves together – they don’t bother with neat stitching. They’re upwardly mobile, living in the trees and not in nondescript holes in the ground. This tends to keep the trees free of other pests and they are used as front-line bio-control troopers in mango and citrus orchards with considerable success.

 It is clear that glued up tender leaves would not be desirable for my morning tea, but neither would pesticide loads that would kill an elephant! Some of the tea gardens have gone organic and others may well do so or at least support a pesticide ban. But maybe there could be a lesson from the Asian super-ant (Lasius neglectus). It is a black ant, not a red one, and is less aggressive but has an interesting proclivity as outlined in an old BBC report from last August. Then they reported from Hidcote Manor, a National Trust house in the UK, that this variety of Asian ants had a passion for electricity that exceeded their desire for food and drink. They caused some little havoc by forming huge clusters in fuse and junction boxes causing an unreliable electrical supply as they got a big charge out of there rave. Maybe solar panels connected to electrified collection boxes could tempt the fire ants away from the first flush tea bush tips. Who knows but maybe the collected ants could be re-settled in fruit orchards if the voltages were set at the correct level.

                 I would love to hear the etymology of the entomological name Lasius neglectus. It can't be as comical as I think!

One Response so far.

  1. jazgal says:

    now, that is electrifying! I had not heard of this particular behavior - clustering on electrical boxes. Roaches, I know, like to cluster in said boxes for the availability of plastic wire sheathing to chew on and the cozy environs, but perhaps they get a kick from the current as well?One thing for sure, insects always make the most of their available materials! As to overly poisoned tea - how tragic for the elephants, and I am going for the organic stuff only from here on out!

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